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IRG 3-6: Anchoring Effects in Judgments about Public Policy.
(Bruce Bimber, Erica Lively, Meredith Conroy)
Studying nanotechnology in the public sphere provides an unusual opportunity to observe the political system responding to a novel or apparently novel issue. Most important from this group’s perspective is the hypothesis that no dominant frames and categories advanced by media have yet shaped how the public thinks about nano. This provides a useful opportunity to examine some theoretical questions regarding how people think about novel political objects, and how their thinking is shaped by framing.
To explore this, the research team developed a theoretical framework combining research in psychology on cognitive biases with theories of framing in political science and communication. The theory is based on the notion of “anchoring effects,” a well-known phenomenon by which an arbitrarily given number affects a recipient’s judgment in a later quantitative task. The researchers extrapolate this theory to judgments about risk comparisons not involving explicit quantitative judgments, and suspect that apparently innocuous comparisons between nano and other technological products may produce an anchoring effect or a contrast effect in the ways that people judge nano, as well as how they reason among other comparisons of public issues.
The team completed an experimental survey with about 700 subjects in 2010, using Knowledge Networks as a subcontractor. The results show substantial contrast effects: that is, subjects primed first to think about a technological issue or other public problem tend to view a second, target issue or problem by contrasting it to the priming issue. Exposure shifts opinion away from the priming issue, compared with subjects not so exposed. An article about the results of this project is under journal review.